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BRICS seek unity and influence at Delhi summit

The leaders of BRICS countries gather on Thursday for their fourth summit, with the emerging market bloc struggling to convert its growing economic strength into collective diplomatic clout.

delhi Updated: Mar 28, 2012 23:23 IST
BRICS countries,IMF,Center for Policy Research

The leaders of BRICS countries gather on Thursday for their fourth summit, with the emerging market bloc struggling to convert its growing economic strength into collective diplomatic clout.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa represent 40% of humanity, but their grouping faces persistent questions over whether it can unite on key issues given the different priorities of its members.

While trade between them is booming, it still represents a small fraction of world commerce and the bloc struggles to come together on global economic issues such as ongoing world trade talks or the leadership of the IMF and World Bank.

"The BRICS concept represents, above all, its members' desire to make the global order more plural," wrote Brahma Chellaney from the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, where the summit will take place.

"But it is uncertain whether the group's members will ever evolve into a coherent grouping with defined goals and institutional mechanisms," he wrote in a recent column.

The problem, say doubters, is the plurality of the BRICS group itself which is riven by rivalries. It brings together authoritarian Russia and China with three democracies, while each of their economies is different.

The leadership changes at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank appeared to represent obvious opportunities for the BRICS to throw their weight behind a joint candidate.

Opening up global financial and economic institutions remains a cornerstone of the group's agenda, but they have opted not to collectively challenge European or American dominance of the Washington-based lenders.

France's Christine Lagarde was given a clear run to become head of the IMF last year, and there will be no common candidate for the post of World Bank president which will be decided by April this year.

"I have not heard anything so far (about a common candidate)," Sudhir Vyas, a senior official at Indian foreign ministry, told a media briefing about the summit on Monday.

The US candidate Jim Yong Kim, currently president of Dartmouth College, faces a challenge from Colombian university professor Jose Antonio Ocampo and Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The BRICS group, which held its first summit in 2009, was initially Brazil, Russia, India and China, but was enlarged last year to include South Africa, which is dwarfed by the others but is seen as the representative of Africa.

Much attention in the lead-up to the summit in New Delhi focused on the creation of the first BRICS institutions which would help cement the five countries together.

A common secretariat remains a far-fetched idea, but leaders are expected to again discuss a much-touted investment bank, known as the "South-South Bank" or "BRICS Bank" which would fund infrastructure and development.

Brazilian industry and trade minister Fernando Pimentel threw his weight behind the proposal last Friday, saying Brazil had a "great deal of interest" in the idea.

Even the bank, however, remains some way off.

"It's still very much a thought that needs to be developed. Experts have met but it will take time," Vyas from the foreign ministry told reporters.

Only two agreements to be inked at the summit have been announced in advance and they are relatively modest in scope, covering credit facilities for exporters.

The leaders -- presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- will also hold private talks.

These will conclude with a "Delhi Declaration" which will summarise the consensus of their views and could include a statement on the bloodshed in Syria, the Iranian nuclear crisis or Europe's debt problems.

At their last summit in China last year, the five countries issued a statement stating that "the use of force should be avoided" in Libya -- a demand that went unheeded by the Western-led coalition that carried out airstrikes.

DH Pai Panandiker, president of the RPG Foundation, an economic think-tank in New Delhi, says he expects the grouping to remain focused on increasing trade -- an uncontentious issue that all are keen to encourage.

"It is a little premature to judge whether they are really successful as a bloc," he told AFP. "So far, they have been able to assert themselves but more time must be given to the countries before one prepares their report card."

Trade grew by 28% last year to $230 billion, according to the foreign ministry.

More on BRICS 2012:

Eurozone woes make BRICS ministers look inwards
BRICS targets $500 bn intra-group trade by 2015
Rich nations distorting global trade: BRICS
Bilateral meets to make summit a tight squeeze
BRICS should now consolidate efforts on global issues: Medvedev
Exiles ask BRICS to raise Tibet with Hu
Nothing short of red carpet for delegates

First Published: Mar 28, 2012 23:13 IST